Writing Exercise: Study how others do dialogue

Photo by Tamara Gak on Unsplash

Struggling with dialog? On a recent edit, the author constantly had people exchange looks – stares – and glances, while the speaking portion of the exchanges were in a rather formalistic structured dialog. The words of the dialog itself were great; the presentation needed work. I came up with the following writing exercise for the author to study dialog produced by others.


Let’s look at other authors and see how they approach glances between characters in dialog, looking at / describing buildings and scenes, and other pauses of action while characters consider what is happening.

Pick three authors you enjoy reading and pick out a description of scene (three pages) and a dialog (three pages) for each. One should be in the genre you are working (say thriller) and one should be NOT be in the genre (not thriller, maybe romance instead), and one an author you sound similar too (if you have one in mind otherwise your choice). Total of 18 pages.

Make copies of the pages or print them out as your are going to mark them up a lot.

Highlight or mark the sections where they are describing a building or room. Do the characters look around? How does the “camera” sweep the area?

For the dialog, how does the “camera” switch between characters? Are they named each time? Where are the dialog tags? Are they firm – “she said”, “he asked”? Or implied “she turned around while pacing.” “he put down the tea cup”? How is the scene description put into the dialog … does the scene description and character description all hit at the beginning of the scene and then does all the dialog happen? Or is the narrative scattered throughout? How is the dialog broken up? Is it always (dialog tag) then (dialog) or (dialog) then (dialog tag) or always (dialog) (dialog tag) (rest of dialog)? How often is the dialog tag/dialog format changed up? How many dialog exchanges are there before a narrative break? Are there sections with just dialog/quoted material with no narrative or dialog tags at all?

Write a short paragraph on what you learned, mark the date, and staple everything together to keep for a year as a reminder.